Flashy Neymar steals pre-Olympic show
20 Jul, London 2012 friendly: GB 0, Brazil 2 (Riverside Stadium)
Neymar. Remember the name. Many of you will already have been aware of the Brazil wunderkind but if you needed any affirmation of his ever-growing world status, it was there for all the see at the Riverside Stadium on Friday night. “Team GB” – God forbid, how I hate that moniker – had no answer to the 20-year-old forward in a final warm-up match before their Olympic campaign gets underway next week.
Let me get the negatives – and there are many – out of the way first. Already a South American player of the year, when still in his teens in 2011, Neymar da Silva Santos Junior has so many affectations that only those destined for greatness – or so utterly consumed by self-importance – can get away with it. At times, he acted like a strutting peacock, displaying his plumage with the blissful cockiness of youth.
And what plumage … spikey mullet-style hair, pathetic attempt at a goatee beard (well, he is only 20), thin hairband that seems to serve no purpose, silly nose tape, white wristbands and lime-green toe-capped boots. Yuk, all of it. Not to mention his diving theatrics, particularly when barely challenged by Ryan Bertrand in the first half, and his crass winding up of the home fans after he had slotted in a 35th-minute penalty, after Micah Richards had carelessly brought down the marauding Hulk.
Neymar is so typical of the youngster, the world over, who has been pampered from infancy, told daily that he is the next best thing since Pele or Lionel Messi and regularly hyped into oblivion by a club – in this case, Santos – who are already drooling over his exit and monster pay day. Even at a mooted asking price of £65 million, expect there to be several billionaire suitors in the global queue.
Profuse apologies. I have dwelt too long on Neymar’s negatives. Perhaps I was still stewing over the continually pompous pronouncements of that pseudo-intellectual dinosaur Garth Crooks. And the reveal-little illuminations of that flaxen-haired self-publicist Robbie Savage, the other BBC1 pundit whose only serious contribution to the evening was to pose the question why he and Gabby Logan, the presenter, had clashed in their choices of shocking red trousers (his) and shocking red jacket (hers)?
Where are the wardrobe advisors when you need them?
Still, back to Neymar: The Positives. And there were many. OK, he missed a sitter, when the GB back-four opened up – as it did many times when Richards and James Tomkins shared the central defensive duties in the first half – but the Boy Wonder more than made up for it, fully deserving his MotM award.
Tricks, flicks, a delightfully disguised free kick for Sandro’s 12th-minute opener – despite Tomkins’ blatant lack of awareness at the far post – and you’re not far away from the real deal. What impressed me most of all, though, was his willingness to work for the Brazil cause, to graft when not in possession, to go the hard yards.
This is not necessarily a Brazilian trait but Neymar and his colleagues – the starting XI had all won senior caps and were collectively valued at around £300 million – have clearly bought in to the strategy of Mano Menezes, the much-criticised coach. “Even without the ball, we have to hunt and hound”. That is his mantra.
No way is this side anywhere near a sort of Barcelona-lite yet but it represents the future and, with the country staging the 2014 World Cup finals, the signs are encouraging. Were they to win an Olympic gold medal – astonishingly, a first – next month, it would be no surprise.
What of GB? Well, as I touched in my preview to this game, who really cares? It is nothing more than a cobbled-together gaggle of under-23s, with a smattering of over-age icons and without the Scottish and Northern Irish refuseniks who would not have merited a place, anyway, and is just an amusing sideshow to the Games. Should they manage to podium – is that really a verb, as is used by so many these days? – we should rejoice.
The GB positives? Well, Jack Butland, the Birmingham City goalkeeper, was immense in the second half, producing a string of saves that prevented a rout. Joe Hart, at last, may have a reliable deputy in the senior team. Danny Rose looked much more comfortable when retreating to left back after the break and Aaron Ramsey put in an industrious 27-minute shift in midfield towards the end.
“Brazil are a very good side and well ahead of us in fitness, games together and understanding,” Stuart Pearce, the GB coach, said. “We gave the ball away a bit cheaply in some positions and we need to find a bit more punch in the final third. We’re not ready yet but we’ll be a lot closer next week. We’ll come on from that.”
GB open their Group A campaign against Senegal at Old Trafford on Thursday. Instead, though, I might just tune in to Brazil v Egypt at the Millennium Stadium on the same night … if it’s televised anywhere. I fancy another look, despite all the glitzy and unnecessary baggage, at the emerging superstar that is Neymar.
GB fixtures (Group A): 26 Jul v Senegal (Old Trafford, 8pm), 29 Jul v UAE (Wembley, 7.45), 1 Aug v Uruguay (Millennium Stadium, 7.45).
20 Jul, London 2012 friendly: GB 0, Sweden 0 (Riverside Stadium)
GB’s women’s team shared a dour goalless draw with Sweden at the Riverside, Rachel Yankey going closest to breaking the deadlock when she struck a post in the second half. GB start their Group E programme against New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.
GB fixtures (Group E): 25 Jul v New Zealand (Millennium Stadium, 4pm), 28 Jul v Cameroon (Millennium Stadium, 5.15), 31 Jul v Brazil (Wembley Stadium, 7.45).